-In which we sail closer and closer to the edge of the map…
Early in this week’s episode, turned away at the doors of the titular House of Black and White by Jaqen H’ghar, Arya pleads “I have nowhere else to go!” and the Faceless Man replies: “You have everywhere else to go.”
That’s how I feel about Game of Thrones as a series, since it’s been gradually both catching up with and diverging from George R.R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Beginning Season 5 of its adaptation of a ‘til-now five-books series, GOT has dropped enough characters, combined and re-jigged enough plot-points and outpaced enough book storylines to stand alone as its own separate story.
Up until now the series has had a novelistic roadmap, but now, as Arya comes to the House of Black and White, and the series comes to The House of Black and White, they’ve both crossed the edge of the map, and have “everywhere else to go.”
Cersei is the character with the most substantial amount of book-plot left to cover, so it makes sense that she’s being presented as the core character for this season (a season which began with an unprecedented flashback to her childhood.)
This week she’s consolidating her power in the Capital, trying to craft herself into Tywin 2.0: she’s put a bounty on Tyrion and is seeing many a headless dwarf presented to her, but she’s shrewd enough not to execute the guys who bring her the wrong head: that might dissuade others from having a try at the hunt.
She’s also making a play for control of the Small Council, buttering up the permanently tipsy-sounding Mace Tyrell, installing Qyburn (aka Maester Frankenstein) as the new Varys, and taking her father’s place and the temporary (wink) King’s Hand.
Cersei’s latest move doesn’t come off 100% without a hitch, though: her uncle Kevan makes it clear that he knew Tywin Lannister, and she, madame, is no Tywin Lannister: “You are the Queen Mother. Nothing more.”
So far so much like the books, but things diverge a little more with the other Lannister siblings: Rather than leading a drawn-out siege in the Riverlands, Jamie is off to Dorne to rescue Myrcella. Oh, and he’s taking Bronn. (Which means goodbye Lollys. Aw, and we’d only just met her. Keep rockin’ those slightly confused facial expressions girl!)
Tyrion is also ambling away from his book plot, but he’s much as we left him last week: riding in a box with Varys to meet Dany and trading lines like “Are we really going to spend the entire road to Volantis talking about the futility of everything?” “You’re right. No point.”
Dany’s story-line this week is more book-tangential than straight up off course, as the murder of a captured Son of the Harpy by one of her freed slaves puts her in an awkward position.
Initially she’s put off executing the Harpy herself by Barristan, who tells her that exectuting his enemies without trial was one of the things that made people start to call her Dad “The Mad King”. – “The Mad King gave his enemies the justice he thought they deserved, and each time it made him feel powerful and right. Until the very end.”
Newly convinced that even she is not above the law (“The Law is the Law.”), Dany puts on her Queen-face and has the slave who killed the prisoner Harpy executed. …Which kicks off a massive riot/revolt/Slaves versus Masters street brawl. Yooopsss…
Perhaps the biggest diversions from the books comes in the scenes where Brienne meets Sansa and Littlefinger in the tavern(!), as it represents both a plotline that’s completely different from the book’s version (Brienne’s story) and also one that continues a plot-line past the last time we saw those characters in the books (Sansa and Littlefinger’s story).
It’s the first story where the show has significantly overtaken the books, so this is exciting stuff. Just like in her meeting with Arya last season, Brienne’s Lannister sword does her no favours in winning over Sansa. (Speaking with her time with Renly, Littlefinger purrs “He said your loyalty comes free of charge. Someone appears to have paid quite a bit for it since then.”)
The circumstantial evidence of her being a guest at Joffrey’s wedding/ claiming a shadow-Stannis killed Renly/ and Renly and Cat both being dead all paint a poor picture of Brienne, but c’mon, running away, scaring off the horses, and killing like three of the knights guarding Sansa isn’t going to do much to help Brienne’s case.
And what’s Brienne’s plan here anyway? Is there even a safe place in Westeros she can take the Stark girls anymore? What’s she gonna do, just follow Sansa and keep yelling and killing her guards until Sansa decides she’s cool? And where is Littlefinger taking Sansa anyway?
Before this episode, as a book-reader I would have a fairly good idea of the answers to those questions, but now that advantage is very nearly gone. I’ve talked before on here about how I love the feeling when a story surprises me, and the Brienne/Sansa scenes tonight shows how much I can continue to look forward to Game of Thrones surprising me as it continues to move past where the books left off.
(In theory and if all had went as planned, The House of Black and White would have been the point where the line between book-readers and show-watchers crumbled and no-one had any prior info about what would happen next. But then the first five episodes of Season 5 were leaked, creating a new group who have info on upcoming plots: the book-readers and the show-watchers have been joined by the leak-downloaders. So the point at which every member of the GOT audience is on the same page has been kicked down the road a few weeks, and will now come when the broadcast show catches up with the leaks.)
At the Wall, everyone’s being more or less good soldiers and plodding along with their book-appointed plots: Stannis wants to legitimise Jon as the new Lord of Winterfell, but Jon winds up taking a different title after his brothers elect him the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. (Lucky number 998!)
The Wall plot sneaks in a little reference to the whole book/adaptation divide when Stannis’s wife Selyeese (a dark horse candidate for GOT’s most unlikeable character now Joffrey’s dead?) snaps at her daughter “You have no idea what people will do. All your books and you still don’t know…”
C’mon, that line is SO on the nose, there’s no way it’s not a meta-wink at the show coming to the end of the A Dance With Dragons material and reaching the point where even the book readers don’t know what’s going to happen next.
So, after 4 years, book readers and TV watchers alike have both passed beyond the Wall and left the Westeros of the novels behind, and now we’re all heading out into the unknown frontier together…
- Man, Jamie is really rocking that medieval version of the Cool Guy Leather Jacket.
- There’s some seeding of the Greyscale sickness in the scene with Gilly, Sam, and Shireen, and we learn that some of Gilly’s sisters also had it, and it turned them into deformed beast-things. I guess that’s gonna be important at some stage this season so…
- “Nothing’s worth anything to dead men.” – Arya Stark: stone-cold killer/ amateur philosopher.
- “Someone who has forgotten fear has forgotten how to hide.” – As we all know, Dario is a massive Doctor Who fan.
- Between the dragon flying off into the skyline of the fantasy city, Dany silhouetted on the balcony and the ethereal reedy whistle-music in the background, did anyone else get a real Legend of Korra vibe from those last shots?
- “I never said I was going alone…” – cue 80’s buddy cop show credits starring Bronn and Jamie.
- Oh hi people in Dorne, nice to see ya. I guess your scenes will be more important next week…
- Wait a minute… Drogon the Dragon is a silly name.
About the author: A lifelong TV addict since his first episode of Sesame Street, Cian Sheppard works as an English teacher in Germany and thinks you look very nice today.